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Br J Health Psychol. 2009 Sep;14(Pt 3):541-61. doi: 10.1348/135910708X373445. Epub 2008 Nov 3.

What predicts post-traumatic stress following spinal cord injury?

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Clinical Health Psychology Services, Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Winchester and Eastleigh NHS Trust, Hampshire, UK.



Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a severe, traumatic event and recently research into the role of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) subsequent to the injury has become of increasing interest. This study has been conducted in order to investigate potential risk factors for the development of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in those with SCI.


This cross-sectional study used multiple regression analysis to look for associations between post-traumatic stress symptom severity, SCI-related factors and previously identified risk factors for PTSD such as dysfunctional cognitions, demographic factors and personality predispositions (neuroticism, alexithymia).


A total of 102 participants with SCI completed measures of post-traumatic stress severity, acceptance of injury, post-traumatic cognitions, social support, neuroticism and alexithymia. In addition, information about type, level and cause of the SCI was assessed.


High levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms were found. Potential risk factors for the development of PTSD were negative cognitions of self and neuroticism. Variables that added to the variance explained by the models included time since injury and difficulty identifying feelings. Acceptance of injury was mediated by negative cognitions of the self and neuroticism.


The study highlights the need for services to be aware of the psychological difficulties experienced by this client group. An important finding is that the acceptance of the injury is mediated by negative cognitions of the self which need to be identified as potential risk factors in order to prevent the development of post-traumatic symptoms in this population.

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